*cue the crickets and me getting awkward stares*
OK, OK, confession time… I do this really weird thing where I often put up my defenses about a certain fictionalized character with a bad or semi-bad rep, and act like I’m trashing them, when deep, deep down, I secretly have a bit of a crush on them. THEN the crush emerges eventually, full steam ahead, and part of me feels like I need to recant every single, stinking thing bad I’ve said about them. I mean, one part of me’s going,
Whereas the selfish, boneheaded, kinda dark and kinda “I want whatever I want” persona (aka my Id/Subconscious that I CONSTANTLY need to keep under a deadbolt, lest all havoc break loose) has a reaction that’s more like,
(I’m guessing you probably did NOT see that coming, on MY blog, of all places…)
It ’tis the sad, sad, newly exposed truth that I do indeed have this inner war embroiled inside of me, when I should be giving all of me to God, the One Who made me and loves me dearly. But then my inner fangirl kicks in (especially with darker, more enigmatic, more sympathetic characters like the Darkling and N from Pokemon), and there’s usually very little you (or I) can do to stop the current from flowing.
So what do I do?
…. But again, I digress. (I tend to do that a lot, in case you haven’t already noticed.)
Anywho, so today Imma show some sympathetic love to one of my favorite villains of all time (and who Alina totally does NOT deserve to have), Mr. Darkling, himself (who no one at this point can totally tell that I’m slightly obsessed with 😛 ).
No, I am not going to make a list, as much as I adore them, because the Darkling is too cool to have a list. Instead, I’m going to give you just some general feedback to why I think people ought to be more sympathetic. In a human, moral, Christian way, of course.
Don’t get me wrong here, I am not at ALL condoning his actions. I’m not denying he has done some pretty horrible things, like killing/torturing (certain) people, in a very Machiavellian way, BUT I am also not denying that he is a VERY human, and obviously very broken character. We humans ALL struggle with sin and our inner guilt (some are more obvious than others). The biggest concern I had for the Darkling was his pride; it’s the greatest of the Seven Deadly Sins, and there is some merit to the old saying, “pride goeth before the fall”. That, and the fact that basically he was corrupted by political power– that just confirmed my conservative Libertarian beliefs that political power corrupts pretty much any human being it touches, even those with the best intentions (and believe me, the Darkling started with good intentions. He just wanted his people to be safe, be cared for, not hunted like wild animals, and showing that they were just as useful to their country, if not better. Not a bad motive to necessarily start with.). But even the Darkling must have realized at some point that the whole power thing was going to drive him nuts with corruption eventually, and it seems that, deep down, he DIDN’T want that. Therefore, he decided, a balance was in order. Similar to our “checks and balances,” so one side of the system doesn’t go all hog-wild power-crazy.
That hopeful balance’s name was Alina Starkov– the Sun Summoner. Like, literally, she isn’t just a political balance, but a natural balance, as well. The light to his dark. The yang to his yin. The jelly to his PB. You get the idea.
So, we have a broken and beautiful guy, who wants a balance so he’s not outta control, is incredibly lonely even for a Grisha (since he is nearly one-of-a-kind in his abilities) and just freaking WANTS A BUDDY (not just another almost brainless follower, a buddy, an equal) TO LOVE AND BE LOVED. I mean, he’s been feared and fought over for his power his WHOLE FLIPPING LIFE, with the only known love reciprocater being his Mommy Dearest, who goes around smacking people around with her stick whenever she feels like it, and who also egged him on in his pride. Sheesh. No wonder the poor guy’s got issues to begin with.
That also brings me to the first of two theories. See, during the general trilogy, the Darkling, like most Grisha, holds a kind of general distrust, wariness, and overall personal superiority over otkazat’sya, or normal people who AREN’T Grisha. But why? I mean, I get that Fjerdans burn them as witches, Shu Han carve them up because they believe their blood/organs to be magical or whatever, and the Kerch sell them as slaves, BUT… here’s my main point… NOT all otkazat’sya are like that. And I think at one time, he may have realized that. You see, in Bardugo’s “Demon in the Woods: A Darkling Prequel Story,” it is revealed that, when he was an awkward young teen (yes, it IS hard to believe, but bear with me on this, please), during his temporary shelter-hopping life with Baghra, they come across a Grisha camp around the Fjerdan borders. There, he kind of befriends a young Tidemaker, Annika, and her little otkazat’sya sister, Sylvi (think six or so years old). It is implied that Sylvi might be the GT’s version of Harry Potter’s squibs. But she neither hankers for the Darkling’s power, like her sister eventually does (which forces him to kill her in an act of last resort self-defense), nor is she terrified of it. Instead, she is fascinated, enjoying touching the inky darkness that pools from his hands, and almost looking up to him in a sense, pretending to be Grisha after he saves them from cruel bullies, specifically one like him, saying that she wishes to “learn how to do that.” The Darkling actually seems pleasantly surprised at this, like this is the first time it’s happened. Sylvi surprises him even further by inquiring about his likes and dislikes, such as his favorite colors and foods– evidently, no one’s ever bothered even asking him before, or getting to know him at all. But, sadly, it is unlikely the two ever saw each other again after the Annika and Lev incident, where the two tried fighting over him, to kill him for his amplifying power– and both getting cut down, literally, themselves. Still, it begs the question of why he prefers Grisha to otkazat’sya.
However, if we look at his conversation with Alina about them, we may find answers. At one point, he questions her “taste” for otkazat’sya, asking if it was because she thought at one point SHE was one; she fires back with a question of her own, asking if he’s always held disdain for them. He answers that he doesn’t disdain them exactly, but understands them to the point that he knows they will die off much sooner than long-living Grisha, and their minds are easily turned against them. This, along with Bardugo’s clever slipping in of Alina wondering how many people he has mourned in his long, long life, if that number included any friends, if at all, or even a wife. So here’s my theory:
He had an otkazat’sya friend he was very, very close with, perhaps even a girlfriend or a wife/lover. Maybe he was like Alina with Mal, only for an otkazat’sya girl, and knows, deep down in his heart, that it didn’t work out. That she grew old and died, and he kept living, and that realization shook him to the core. But I think the same appeal of Sylvi would have stuck with him; they wouldn’t have been able to use his amplifying power, after all, unless they were able to capture him and sell him off to the highest Grisha bidder to be killed. Who knows? Perhaps Sylvi stayed in touch with him somehow, and they were able to still maintain and grow in their friendship (he would’ve had to keep the truth of his sister’s death a secret, though… Although, now that I think of it, maybe that’s what happened. She learned the truth, grew to hate him for it no matter what he said in his defense, and left him all alone. #FANFICIDEA).
So, he’s in a predicament. He feels he can’t trust otkazat’sya at this point, obviously, but he’s always under fire with fellow Grisha, because if they so much as brush against his arm/hand, they’re sure to feel the surge of power within them, realizing he’s a living amplifier. Between that, and wanting to rule the world (or at least Ravka and the surrounding countries) for the sake of his hunted people who some of which may want to kill him (as well as various kings and otkazat’sya assassins) , he needs a plan. An associate. Someone he can be himself around, start to trust and gain confidence in, an equal in power, who can sit on the dais next to him.
Again, enter Alina.
The primary problem with her is, she’s already crushing on a guy– an otkazat’sya, Mal. Who in my own opinion is not worth the bat of a lash. (I mean, c’mon, if she so much as mentions the Darkling and tries to confide in him in the hopes of him supporting her, what does he do? He brawls with Grisha, sometimes drunk, sometimes not. He goes and kisses Zoya. Then he gets drunk on kvas when Alina needs him most, practically passes out because of his non-commitment and “I couldn’t care less” selfish attitude, and WHO shows up to support her, instead? I repeat, WHO? That’s RIGHT— THE DARKLING!!!!!…. Who, BTW, to make her feel better even comes in to be with her LOOKING like Mal, to help ease her distress, to a– albeit slightly creepy–degree. OK, OK, personal rant over.) So he’s willing to forgive/overlook more betrayal on her part, but is very willing to kill Mal to get what he wants, and feels he needs (not simply out of vengeful jealousy). Alina is one of the rare people who even remotely looks at him for who he is as a PERSON, but is usually torn between that, and all the crimes he commits because she runs off and leaves him, half the time thinking of him as a monster. This is a confusing, contradictory, double-sided, and incredibly hurtful way to to think of someone. It takes very little imagination to realize what he must have felt.
In short, the Darkling is an incredibly powerful, immensely lonely, beautiful, broken person who is desperate. Desperate for a companion, desperate for love, desperate for his people, desperate for power, but also desperate to control himself– knowing he can’t do it by himself. If he were real (and this situation might or might not get awkward eventually), I would seriously be tempted to just HUG him, BECAUSE SO MANY FREAKING FEELS (That probably would not end well. At the very least, if he didn’t use the Cut, he’d probably get an Oprichnik to peel me off him.) . I’ve been there before, been so lonely and depressed it’s nearly killed me. If I was that devastated in just a few short years in early high school, I can barely imagine what it would do to a 120 year old Grisha, give or take a few years. It’s surprising he’s held up even that well, honestly, especially considering he doesn’t believe in God.(Which also kills me, but hey, Bardugo’s a secular author, so what can you do?) But maybe that’s the reason he let Alina (spoiler alert) stab him at the end.
Another surprising fact or two about him: He has a big sweet tooth (yaaaaaasssss), and no, his favorite color is NOT black, but rich reds, deep blues, and a golden-ish yellow, like sunlight (another bonus of being Alina’s possible friend).
Anyways, that brings me to sum up with a final thought and a theory: No matter what anyone thinks of him, the Darkling is still very much a HUMAN character. He does horrible, terrible things, yes, but really– what or who PUSHED him to sin? We are all born with a sinful nature, yes, but usually there’s a bit of a trigger, an instigator or two. As I’ve shown, the Darkling had at least a few possible instigators. And again, I’m certainly NOT condoning any of his horrific crimes (though we would do well in remembering he often chooses to make empty threats to get the job done, as well as a few legit threats that he does follow through with), merely pointing out that he’s a broken, but very human, sinner.
Now to the theory, the most infamous GT of all time…
The Darkling may have faked his death, and put a substitute corpse on his pyre, similar to Alina.
While there is implication his death *may* have been genuine (Bardugo has stated that some certain deaths in her books were very much permanent, although we should note that she DID NOT SPECIFY, as well as stating that there were a LOT of uncertainties at the end of Ruin and Rising), we would also do well to recall that this is the Darkling we’re talking about, with AGES of experience in faking his death under his belt. Besides, we don’t know who it was who arranged “his” body on that pyre, to make it look so nice, etc. for him. Whoever it was must have cared about him, or at least feared/respected him, to a degree. Additionally, Bardugo mentioned in a separate interview that, to quote Nikolai in the instance of him possibly having survived, that it was only IMPROBABLE that he survived, and NOT impossible. But, between that and her earlier quote that certain deaths are permanent, it is honestly hard to know which to believe… So if I were to ever meet her in person, you’d BETTER believe I’m going to ask her that!
Also, we should recall the infamous, very hyped up quote about the Darkling, via Siege and Storm, “Darkness never dies”. 🙂
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